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Brokers vs. Underwriters

For years, there's been an unspoken uneasiness in the relationship between some brokers and underwriters. But both parties are learning to rely on each other to win...



Before Matt Croswell was a partner and broker with Jones Deslauriers in Mississauga, Ont., he was an underwriter. Sitting on both sides of the table has given him insight into the benefits and burdens of the relationship between the two parties.

“It’s not competitive, but in some cases, it can be tense and contentious, because our first responsibility is to our customer. And sometimes we, as brokers, don’t see eye to eye with a wording’s intent or perhaps a rate increase that an underwriter might give. The underwriters themselves might feel we have to navigate that and figure out a way that we can strike a balance so we can achieve everyone’s goals,” he says.

Some brokers might feel as though underwriters are an obstacle to providing clients with the policy that best fits their needs, but that’s not always the case; underwriters face pressures that brokers don’t necessarily see. Croswell has learned of those challenges firsthand. “It’s given me a broader understanding of the internal challenges that underwriters can face – management approvals, head office underwriting philosophies. They don’t go out to the customer’s location and see what’s going on, so we’ve got to give them what they need in order to make their arguments. We are the eyes and ears of the underwriter.”

An Equal Reliance

Nancy Brady, vice-president of professional liability at Creechurch Underwriters, says they view brokers as their clients. “Brokers ultimately provide us with access to the insured. We rely on our broker partners to understand the needs of their clients and to relay that information in an open and honest manner so that we can provide the best coverage. Brokers are valuable in balancing our needs with the needs of the client.”

But brokers rely equally as much on underwriters, Brady says. “We are valuable to brokers in providing a risk overview, required coverage and assistance with any loss prevention and risk management needs. We also help our brokers navigate the claims process, ensuring matters are being dealt with in the quick and efficient manner required to give the insured peace of mind.”

Croswell says he frequently relies on underwriters to provide superior customer service. “We depend on them as partners in creating the most competitive and comprehensive insurance package for our customers. Sometimes we’ll need them to compete on risks that don’t fit their appetite. Some underwriters are willing to go to their management and make a case to write a risk that wouldn’t otherwise fit their appetite.”

The Trust Strategy

That’s why forming trusting relationships with underwriters is a good idea for brokers, and is a strategy Croswell employs daily. “Connecting on a personal level always helps, so getting out socially, getting out of the office, not talking about business and just forming that personal bond with people. In this business your word is your bond, and after enough kept words and solid handshakes and a willingness to work together, you tend to form very fruitful relationships out of that.”

Brady agrees that mutual respect is vital in every broker-underwriter relationship. “It’s important to put yourself in the other’s shoes. Brokers require quick and correct answers, as insureds most often leave insurance matters to the last minute. Underwriters need detailed and specific information in order to make sound underwriting decisions. Having mutual respect and open, honest communication goes a long way to providing each other and our mutual clients with the best service possible.”

Creating that exchange of trust should be a focus for brokers, since, after all, forming strong relationships is the basis of the broker profession. “Our customers depend on us having relationships out there so we have people who are favourable to negotiate with us,” Croswell says. “At the very basic level, our clients depend on us to be intermediaries between them and the underwriters; that’s the basis of what we do.”

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Copyright © 2016 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in the December 2016 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine

Transcontinental Media G.P.